Nethack: wand of facepalm

, | Game diaries

I’m playing as a gnomish wizard, because that’s what I feel like in real life: a short, weak creature who has a lot of potential that will never pay off because he will be doing pretty well until he eats a rotten rat corpse and dies with only his pet cat to remember him.

After the jump, check out my sweet items

The game starts me off by telling me I feel lucky, and putting a goblin on the square next to me. That’s cute. The goblin is easily dispatched, so time to check out the old inventory. Nethack gives you a batch of items, you see, to start off with, and the items you get are different each game. This time, the game has seen fit to hand me a scroll of “destroy armor,” a “ring of conflict,” and a “wand of create monster”. That’s nice, a wand that creates monsters. What a great item for a brand-new character to have. I can imagine that being very useful — WAIT A MINUTE! Monsters invariably want to kill me! And you gave me an item that CREATES them? And not any specific kind of monster, but just “monster”? So if I use this wand, a monster of some unspecified type will materialize, and the only thing I know about it is that its number-one goal in life will be to eat me. Thanks, Nethack. Thanks a million.

I can hear the Nethack nerds quivering with nerd-rage now, ready to tell me how all these bad-seeming items are actually good. And they’re right. I’m sure there is some unimaginable situation in which a wand that creates monsters might actually be useful. Nethack is a real charmer about that sort of thing. You’ll find “gloves of uncontrollably slapping yourself in the face”, and throw them away, because that’s a stupid thing to own. But then ten minutes later you’ll run into, like, a “Schadenfreude Dragon”, whose only vulnerability is that it will laugh itself to death if it sees you uncontrollably slapping yourself in the face. And the cherry on top is that you won’t know that the Schadenfreude Dragon has that weakness because the game won’t tell you.

It’s things like this that send you to the official Nethack website, desperate to learn the origins of this ridiculous torture device that dares to call itself a “game”. There you learn two things: first, that the Nethack website apparently received its last redesign in 1972. And second, from the FAQ:

Why is it called Nethack if it’s a single player game that doesn’t use the net?

The ‘Net’ in Nethack refers to the way the developers, many of whom have never met in person, organize the work on the program.

Well, that explains it. All the greatest creative teams never met in person. Gilbert and Sullivan, for instance, did all their collaboration by yelling at each other from neighboring apartments.

Anyway, to give you an update, I’ve reached level 2, both on the dungeon and as a character, and I’d keep playing but I’m on a laptop and I’m at a point where I can only keep moving if I go diagonally. I’d explain why this is a problem but it would take longer to do that than to buy a numeric keypad.

Up next: I move diagonally. Get ready to change your pants.
Click here for the previous Nethack entry.

Tony Carnevale is a writer who lives in New York City.